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Dream Soul: Orenda Fink’s Blue Dream

Orenda Fink
Blue Dream
Saddle Creek

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Pablo Picasso’s Blue Period lasted from 1900 until 1904, when he painted monochromatic paintings of blue and blue-green and took up outsiders and social outcasts—prisoners, the elderly, the poor, and, yes, artists—as his subject matter. His theme was desolation; his mood was despondency; his artwork was as masterful as his staggering The Old Guitarist.

Orenda Fink’s equally masterful new album, Blue Dream, finds her making a connection that didn’t make it to Picasso’s canvasses. The album sleeve provides a hint: it depicts a whale swimming through a blue-green sea.

And the songs on the vinyl within the sleeve—in their utter beauty and sincerity—clarify the hint. Fink has entered her own Blue Period, but its genesis differs from Picasso’s. Blue Dream explores the connection between the interior life of the artist and the lives of the animal world (the death of Fink’s dog, Wilson, inspired many of the songs on the album).

But the exploration of this connection is just a starting point for Fink. Blue Dream is an expansive and sadly beautiful reflection on time, loss, and joy. It’s a collection of songs—epiphanies, really—that feel as if they were birthed out of the melancholic struggle to understand mortality, to glimpse and maybe attain faith and joy in a world where everything can seem random and absurd. It’s an album of dreams to be recalled in moments of silent meditation—moments of mystery.

Yes, the key word to associate with Blue Dream is mystery (more on “mystery” later). Fink includes songs like “Holy Holy” and “Blue Dream,” which create such a sense of spiritual longing and abandonment for which the beauty of music this good seems to be the only possible redemption.


But in bookending Blue Dream with the lovely “Ace of Cups” and “All Hearts Will Beat Again,” Fink opens and closes the record with songs of redemption and hope. She agrees with T.S. Eliot that despite the apparent chaos of our lives (hear her “Sweet Disorder”), “all shall be well / All manner of thing shall be well.”

So Fink’s dream—and, really, the “dream of life,” as Percy Shelley and Patti Smith would say—is one of ultimate redemption. And one discovers redemption in epiphanies that appear in dreams along the stages of life’s way.

Fink’s central epiphanies—and really the thematic dream songs of Blue Dream—are “This Is a Part of Something Greater” and “You Are a Mystery.” While Fink structures the slow and glorious “Something Greater” as a dialogic attempt to discover the meaning of death, “You Are a Mystery,” derives from her engagement with Jungian dream analysis, archetypes, and the collective unconscious. The melody is melancholic in its acceptance of Wilson’s death, but the words are joyous in their expression of the awe in the mystery of his eternal archetypal existence.


There’s a promise in all the mystery, which Fink reveals in one of the best song of her career, “You Can Be Loved.” On this track, Fink sings from the perspective or, better, out of the collective unconscious. The “You” is Fink herself, people and all living beings in general, and, most importantly, you the listener. The song is about the acceptance of oneself as a being with the potential to accept the redemption and the eternal interconnectivity that transcends death about which Fink writes on “All Hearts Will Beat Again.”

I’d be remiss to conclude this review without mentioning the singing and playing on Blue Dream. Fink’s voice, as always, is a marvel for the ears, and—thanks to her “dream team” of players: Ben Brodin, Todd Fink, and Bill Rieflin—the record as a whole sounds like a dream feels. All the guitar solos, harmony vocals (hear “Darkling”), and drum riffs combine to create a meditative space, where you can float in the achingly gorgeous music. And Fink even uses a recurring saw to hold much of the record together!

Blue Dream is so good that perhaps it’s started a new genre: dream soul. Yes, Fink has created dream pop for the soul.